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Northern Ohio is drifting into an abandonment crater

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/30/13 @ 2:15pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices, NEO Sustainable Communities

If Northeast Ohio doesn’t correct course soon, its future will be stained with abandonment.

Analysis provided by Boston firm Sasaki & Associates for the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities show abandoned property in the 12-county region, including Cuyahoga County where it mushrooms from 26,000 today to many multiples of that by 2040.

<br /><br />Abandoned in the city<br />Construction of homes in new communities has outpaced household growth, causing surplus old homes to be abandoned and the region's urban cores to decline.Encouraging, but not enough<br />Walkable, mixed-use redevelopment projects, such as Uptown in Cleveland's University Circle, are encouraging, but they are not happening at a large enough scale to counter-balance the loss of urban population and tax base.

The costs for abandonment are staggering: 18 homes per day between now and 2040, at a cost of $525 million in demolition alone. With data from CSU professor Tom Bier’s on-going study of regional housing (see recent presentation here), Sasaki predicts a 10% decrease in available housing, even as greenfield suburbs are predicted to add more housing served by hundreds of new miles of roads.

“This is the first such effort where we look at the consequences of a no-growth area in population and the growth of units,” NEOSCC Executive Director Hunter Morrison told his Board representing 130 organizations engaged in a 2-year $4 million regional planning initiative. “What does that look like on the area (it’s land use, financial implications of tax base loss and demolition costs etc.)?”

The group has mapped the locations of a predicted 77,000 acres of more abandonment in Northern Ohio. Cuyahoga County is at the epicenter of what would certainly be a catastrophic loss of property value and quality of life for many of its cities, but in particular Cleveland and the east side.

NEOSCC plans to produce toolkits, policy recommendations and pilot projects if the region deems it important to establish an alternative.

The point of this scenario planning is to draw a clear contrast between ‘business-as-usual’ with an alternate path of development closer in, connected, with land being recycled and existing assets like homes restored.

When Sasaki projects the regional picture in to the future along these two paths, it will provide a cost comparison for more sprawl vs. smart growth.

Sasaki will put a dollar figure to who are the winners and losers in this business-as-usual scenario. How much will it cost the suburbs to continue the pattern they established—requiring more land, driving and energy use? How much would the inner-ring and city save with more walkable urbanism?

NEOSCC will provide figures for how much it will cost each city and the whole region to shuffle tax base around, duplicate big box centers and build hundreds of miles of roads, sewer, water and power lines to subdivisions built over top of farm land. It will answer, can we afford to pay for all of this and for the homes being abandoned on our block?

The projection of abandonment at the region’s core is the inverse of more sprawl development, shown in a growing splotch over green space in rural areas and clustered around highways.

The maps will be on display for comment at NEOSCC’s Business as Usual public meeting in Cleveland this Wednesday, May 1 (other meetings are scheduled throughout the region from April 30-May 2). Share your ideas and examples of where you see trends that can reverse the course of business as usual.

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5 years ago

All the more reason for Cleveland to attempt some radical solutions.

I attended the City of Cleveland Complete and Green Streets meeting.

Not one politician showed up. The best that can be said about the slideshow I saw was that it was a 'step in the right direction.'

Street paint and plantings. Great. Now what? Who will maintain these features? All the bike lanes were subservient to on-street parking.

The city strategy is pretty clear: build playgrounds such as casinos, sports stadiums, bars and restaurants and hope that after the suburbanites drive in, tear up the roads and battle for parking, and get drunk; some of them stay.

Until they have children, which also coincides with the end of their property tax-abatement status.

For this strategy there must be maximum capacity roads (for cars) and free on-street parking.

Won't happen in any significant numbers. This is not serving the city with the tax base, sin taxes are not a reliable revenue stream.

It benefits the bar owners, sport team owners and casino owners.

So what's my radical solution?

How about designing a car free community in the city?

One that encourages healthy living like walking, cycling, local shopping, eating locally grown food, etc, etc?

When do we stop the endless analysis, (spot-on as it may be) and actually try something?

How many like-minded people from around the nation would be attracted to a community like this?

Stop pursuing your suburbanites and exurbanites, Cleveland. They are not coming back.

5 years ago

Just a few policy recommendations to encourage more sustainable development in the core metropolitan area:

State tax policy reform that eliminates loopholes benefitting greenfield development in townships which are not required to charge property tax (many of them are tax havens).

We need full cooperation in regional initiatives, like Cuyahoga County's anti-poaching agreements, and more communities to participate in the Ohio Balanced Growth Program.

NOACA could incentive growth in existing communities by investing primarily in placemaking strategies like a comprehensive Complete Streets policy with performance goals i.e. reduction of Vehicle Miles Traveled and greenhouse gas reductions in its review of projects.

Cities could reform their zoning to allow for mixed-used development, to eliminate parking minimums, and allow accessory dwelling units. Other zoning changes could encourage growing local food and producing renewable energy in residential areas. Cities can pass comprehensive Complete Streets laws.

Universities and big institutions like Case, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital could grow their Transportation Demand Management practices from home mortgage incentives in University Circle to a coordinated transit system and more bike facilities.

For a more comprehensive look at smart growth policies and practices developed for Northeast Ohio, see the Regional Land Use research area at gcbl.org/research

5 years ago

So, @GCBL, market-based demand will drive the urban-style development in the existing suburban areas? Any policies need to be changed to foster that demand or end greenfield development, which still seems to be continuing?

5 years ago

In his book, Reshaping Metropolitan America, urban planner Arthur C. Nelson comes to two conclusions with implications for sprawl-heavy regions like Northeast Ohio:

1. "There may be little or no demand for homes in exurban or suburban fringe areas of slow-growing or stagnating metropolitan areas."

2. A monumental shift in housing preferences, already under way among Baby Boomers and Gen Y could allow much of the coming development to take a relatively compact form. Much of this urban-style development will take place in the suburbs, where cheaply built stores and large parking lots present attractive (mixed-use) development opportunities.

Congress for New Urbanism states that in order to add the 25 million new homes that Nelson forecasts will be needed by 2030, regions like Northeast Ohio have to "rapidly start framing and implementing strategies that can address...parking standards, accessory dwelling units (to meet growth in multi-generational housing), zoning, and most of all, prioritize infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, transit and parks in current build areas."


5 years ago

It is good to see The Plain Dealer start to focus on the issue of urban sprawl, including Brent Larkin's op-ed on Tom Bier's study, with more frequency lately, but I think that Mr. Larkin's article from this weekend ("Jackson doesn't share fellow mayors' worries about region's future, and they don't share his confidence") exposes a gap in understanding of the issue. It is not only a matter of "lobbying legislators and the governor on the desperate need for additional investments in troubled cities," as Larkin writes, but also, and more importantly, a matter of reversing the policies that promote and incentivize sprawl.

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